Tuesday, April 24, 2018

5 Hair Products This Multiracial Family Can't Live Without, and How We Choose What We Buy

Hair.  It's a BIG topic in the transracial adoption community.  And for good reason.

Trying to find the perfect hair products is overwhelming and expensive.  Not to mention, confusing! And for a family likes ours where we have four kids (and four different hair types, lengths, and style preferences), it can get pretty complicated!   

However, we have a good routine in place for each child, including the products we use.  And if you follow me on Insta, I post new hairstyles often!  

First, here are our rules for choosing hair products:

1: Affordable.  I'm not spending $20+ per bottle of hair product.  No way.  Not with four heads of hair.  Not happening.    

2:  Healthy.   No dirty beauty ingredients allowed.  We try to live a life as toxic-free as possible, and this includes hair products!

3:  Scent-worthy.  I'm super scent-sensitive, so I'm picky about products.  If it doesn't smell amazing (and not overwhelming), I'm not buying it, no matter how good of a product it is.  

4:  Accessibility.  I'd better be able to order it from Amazon, or I'm not buying it.  Because when you need product, you NEED product.  (Now, I do try to stay ahead-of-the-game by buying product from my local Black beauty store.  But with four kids, I sometimes forget to get product before a hair styling session.)  

5:  Black-created.  I prefer the products come from a Black-owned, Black-created company.  (Though I have purchased products we've enjoyed from other companies as you'll see below.)  

So here are our top five favorite products:

1:  Camille Rose Naturals.

This is the brand I use on my oldest two girls.  Every single product smells amazing, is affordable, and works!  There are instructions on every bottle stating how to use the product (free hair tips?  yes, please!)  Here are just a few of the products we use: the cleansing rinse, kids' brown butter hair balm, and the kids' sweet pudding buttercream. I haven't met a Camille Rose product I don't like!  

2:  Curls.

This is the brand I use for my son.  The creme brulee leave-in smells like dessert (duh) and is my absolute favorite!   The blueberry bliss is also delish, but I prefer to use it in my son's hair in the summer, as it just smells summery.  There's also a blueberry bliss gel option.   We "finish" his hair using a coiling sponge:  it gives the curls definition and looks simply adorable!  

3:  Honey Baby Naturals.

So I was having a hard time finding products for my baby girl (1.5 years old) that would keep her finger coils moisturized.  I much prefer finger coils to afro puffs!   They are a protective style for shorter hair, easy to re-do, and so cute.   After I tried one Honey Baby product, I just KEPT ordering more products from them!  We currently use the shampoo, conditioner, detangler, and leave-in moisturizer.  AND, to top it all off, they make a body lotion in a matching scent!   I love when ALL products have the same scent, otherwise the mixture of scents is just overpowering, even nauseating.   

4:  Satin pillowcases and crib sheets.

Yes, this is a hair product.  We use satin pillowcases over the backs of car and booster seats to protect hair, as well as on our kids' bed pillows.  There are many colors to choose from to match their preferences and room decor.  We own over ten of these!   

The satin crib sheet is a hair-saver for my toddler.  Now, satin crib sheets can be really expensive, which is why we only own one.  But this one is the most affordable I've seen.  Fair warning:  it snags easily on things like velcro (think bibs) and zippers, so if you wash it, wash it by itself or with other soft bedding or clothing.  There's a pink and blue option, too. I'm asked about the crib sheet ALL the time.   

5:  Trader Joe's Tea Tree.

Cradle cap and dry scalp struggles are real, especially with infants!  I swear by Trader Joe's Tee Tree shampoo and conditioner for dry scalp situations.  (I DO NOT recommend it for day-to-day or week-to-week use otherwise.)   To remove cradle cap, slather the child's scalp with coconut oil and leave on for twenty minutes.  Then brush with a baby brush.  Then wash the hair with the tea tree shampoo, followed by the tea tree conditioner.  Then apply your favorite leave-in moisturizer.  Three treatments, and my baby's cradle cap was gone!   We then transferred the shampoo and conditioner (which is really affordable, by the way; and the bottles are large) to our guest bathroom shower for any guests to use who forgot to bring their own product.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

5 Simple Guidelines for a Successful Open Adoption

Let me start by saying, there is nothing "simple" about open adoption.  I've said time and time (and time and time) again that open adoptions take A LOT of work.  Like any adoption, open adoptions are complex and bittersweet.  

But there are ways you can work to make your open adoption more likely to be successful.   

After twelve years in the adoption community and almost a decade of parenting adoptees (as well as almost a decade of open adoptions), here's my best advice:

1:  Make short-term, organic promises.  

I've seen it way too many times:  agencies encouraging hopeful/new adoptive parents to promise the world to the expectant/birth parents.   And it's not OK.   

The thing is, none of us can project the future.  So to commit to certain things (visits, phone calls, e-mails, etc.) from the child's placement to when the child is eighteen is unrealistic.  It's sets the relationship up to fail.   

It's also a tool unethical adoption agencies use to lure moms into placing their children for adoption.  After all, she will get to see her child, know how her child is doing, and perhaps be a big part of the child's life, maybe even the child's day-to-day life.   The mom may then believe that she is somehow co-parenting the child and the adoption won't be "that bad" of a decision.  Instead, it'll be a win-win.   

Making short-term, organic promises allows the relationship to develop naturally and at a healthy pace vs. rushing, making unhealthy decisions, and projecting the future.  

What is short-term?  Well, I'd say six months at a time, or a year if you know each other well.  But definitely NOT birth to age eighteen!  

Which leads me to point #2...

2:  Do what you child wants and needs. 

When your child is old enough to have a say-so in the openness, which I firmly believe he or she should, his or her input on the openness should absolutely matter.   

Because the open adoption should be centered around the adoptee:  the innocent party who was left to the will of adults.   

Even when a child isn't old enough to verbalize how he/she feels about openness, parents can observe their child's behaviors and reactions before, during, and after visits.   

There are certain things my kids don't have a choice in right now.  They have to go to school.  They have to brush their teeth.  They have to attend church with us.   There are some situations in which they simply don't have a choice.   But in the openness with their birth families?  They absolutely have options.  

3:  Be flexible.  

Things change.  People change.  This is HARD for someone like me who is type A (aka:  controlling).   I think being open to change is incredibly important.  The people who placed the child, and the people (you) who received the child aren't going to forever remain the same.  We might move.  Divorce.   Change careers.  Add more children.   This is called life, ya'll.  Real life.   

Therefore, we have to be open to changes.   We can't have rules so rigid that people can't be human.  

However, I do draw the line at broken promises.   This is absolutely detrimental to the child.  Some flexibility?  Of course.  But breaking a child's heart by not showing up (especially multiple times) is unacceptable.  

4:  Communicate (don't guess).  

We all do it.  We guess what another person's motivation is.  Their thoughts.  Their feelings.  And assuming simply harms relationships.   

Instead, we need to ask questions, be open to responses, be honest and empathetic and grace-filled.  

If an issue arises (let's say you're frustrated that your child's birth mom posted pictures of your child online when you're family guideline is not to do so), instead of stewing about it, being passive-aggressive, or assume she's out to make you angry, ask.  

Difficult conversations are only more difficult if you choose to avoid an issue for a long period of time.  

The explanation could be very simple and completely opposite of what you supposed.   

Likewise, invite conversations.  Ask your child's birth family if there's anything they want to talk to you about.  Touch base and see how things are going.  Then re-calibrate and move forward.  

5:  Stay in your lane.  

There are certain things that are nachobusiness.  Yes, you read that correctly.   

You are not in charge of the birth parents or their choices.  You are not their judge or jury.  Likewise, they are not yours.    

Only if something they are doing or saying is harmful to your child, should you revert to #4 and speak up.  

(I love the "stay in your lane" phrase so much that I dedicate an entire chapter to it in my new book.)

For more open adoption information, please visit my friend Lori's blog and check out her book.  

What has made your open adoption successful or unsuccessful?  What would you tell those new to open adoption or those considering whether or not to have an open adoption? 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Celebrating National Poetry Month with Morgan Harper Nichols

I'm a *bit* excited about National Poetry Month.  After all, I authored a book with my daughters that's written in poems (along with some gorgeous illustrations from Sharee Miller).

And when I first read Morgan's poetry, I fell head-over-heels.   (And by the way, so did my baby, as you probably saw on IG.  She keeps sneaking off with Morgan's book!  I don't know if it's the golden cover or what, but my baby is obsessed!)

Encouraging.  Mind-opening.  Heart-talking.   

Every word she writes inspires me.  Seriously, friends.  I'm underlining every single word of every single poem she writes.  

Which is why I knew I had to interview her.  Because those of us in the adoption community are often vulnerable, scared, and broken.  We are waiting.  We are mourning.  We are hoping.  

And we NEED what Morgan can offer us.  Our hearts beg for hope.   And Morgan?  She does.  not.  hold.  back.  from giving.   

Rachel:  Morgan, tell me about yourself!  

I’m a writer, artist, and musician from Atlanta, Georgia, and I am now living in Los Angeles, California. As a child, I began writing poems, stories and teaching myself to play instruments, as a result of just being curious about them. I was on the quieter side as a child, never, ever dreamed of sharing anything I made being shared with others. As an introvert, I love to write and create because I simply enjoyed the act of sitting alone in my room, just making things. However, to make a long story short, the music I made was eventually heard through the walls by parents. When I was a teenager, they encouraged me to share what I was making in our local community just outside of Atlanta. I was a homeschooled preacher’s kid, and this was before young artists were using social media like they are today, so I never really had a community of other young people who were making music to share this experience with. So instead, I became accustomed to sharing the songs I was writing with people at the age of 14.

I often played in small coffee shops, smoothie shops, parks, restaurants, churches, and even flea market parking lots. I learned how to “read the room” and “know the audience” really quickly! Even though performing for others did not come easily or naturally to me, I’m so grateful I was encouraged to do it. It nurtured within me the importance of connecting with others through art in this in-the-moment way that has greatly impact the work I make today.

If I stayed in the comfort zone of my room writing songs, stories, and poetry, I do not think I would have been able to learn all that I have learned about writing and creating since then.

Years later, I still perform, but I have also began to focus more on writing, namely poetry and prose, and how to connect with others in this in-the-moment way that I learned in my early days of performing with just a voice and a guitar.

Rachel:  Your new book Storyteller: 100 Poem Letters was inspired by your song “Storyteller.”  What is the significance of the word storyteller- both as a book and song title?  Why did you write the book? 

I am so grateful for my childhood, namely because of my mother and father. They nurtured and encouraged me and my younger sister’s gifts, and I truly believe that is a huge part of who I am and why I am able to share and encourage others today. I thank God for them daily!

Outside of the home however, was a different story. Everywhere we went, my sister and I were total outsiders. My parents led a small church, so the budget was right and we didn’t have a lot of the same designer clothes or gadgets that are peers had. Our clothes and toys came from the thrift store, we didn’t have a lot of technology like TV cable or video games, and we were mostly interested in creating and reading books. We loved it, but other kids? Not so much. I am not exaggerating when I say that we were always the kids getting picked on.

Additionally, my sister was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome at a young age which led to relentless bullying from elementary through high school. I was the older sister who wanted to protect her from that, and as a result of being treated as outsiders, we found our way inside, spending most of our teen years learning to play instruments and write songs, and for me, writing poetry at home.

During my teen years, I knew I wanted to write as a career in some way, and even though my parents encouraged me, I was reminded by my peers of just how much I did not fit in.

I struggled to meet peers who had a story similar to mine, and I began to believe the lie that my story didn’t matter. So instead, I would write about other people’s stories because I didn’t believe that anything that had happened in my own story was anything someone outside my home would care about. This was the start of a decade-long creative journey of always writing with other people in mind, while secretly feeling that my story meant nothing.

In 2014, I started something on Facebook called “Storyteller Sunday.” It was a Sunday evening Facebook event where people could come and share their stories. I had a very small social media following at the time but the project quickly spiraled into something bigger than me. I was beginning to see names of people in the comments that I didn’t know, and I was deeply moved and encouraged by these stories.

After a few months of doing this every Sunday, I was walking into the kitchen one morning to make some coffee and out of nowhere, a song came to my mind—melody, lyrics, and all—called “Storyteller.”

The song was nearly entirely complete. That had never happened to me before and I truly believe it was a download from God Himself. I rushed upstairs, wrote it down, and a few months later, the song was being recorded and in 2015, it released to radio.

Now everyone in the world may not know this song and it may not have been a chart topper, but it changed my life forever. The stories that people began to share with me and how that song connected with them and had changed their lives was so incredibly humbling and eye opening.

One of the things that really stood out to me in this experience was that, “Storyteller” was the first song, and the only song to this day that came to be without someone’s story in mind. I began to realize...maybe, just maybe, this song was about my story too.

Of the many things the release of “Storyteller” taught me, it completely shook up the belief about myself that I didn’t have a story to tell. When this happened, it forced me to see that even though I thought my story wasn’t interesting, I could not have written that song without the mountains and the valleys that I had climbed in my life.

I began to gain the courage to finally allow myself to believe that my story mattered. And not because my story was more interesting or valuable than anyone else’s, but it was mine, and even through the trials, it was a blessing. A blessing worth telling. And as I began to hear the stories of others, I began to see that in sharing our stories, meaningful connections were being made between people who may have never believed they shared anything in common prior to that moment. Together, sharing our stories, we were all being reminded that we are not alone.

I titled the book Storyteller in hopes to encourage others with that message. My hope for these poems is that at least one person will see that no matter the mountains and valleys they have climbed, they have a story to tell. It does not matter your age, where you are from, the color of your skin, how many times you've been overlooked or undervalued, and it does not matter what you have or have not done, there is a way that you live, and a way that you tell your story that no one can else in this world can tell it. Telling your story also gives other people hope in telling their own. So tell the story of the mountains you’ve climbed. Your words come become a page in someone else’s survival guide. 

This is what I believe and why I wrote this book. Each poem was written with one person’s story in mind, and above the poems, I share who they were written for. I did this in hopes to encourage readers to see that even though our stories may all be different, we can still connect and have empathy for one another, which can cause a ripple effect for everyone to begin sharing and connecting around stories. 

Rachel:  So many women are struggling.  Struggling with addictions and losses and mental illness.  Struggling in marriages and in parenting.  Struggling at work and at home.  Real,difficult challenges.  In the case of my readers, infertility and adoption are major struggles.   How does Storyteller encourage women on their darkest days?  

Most of the poems that I write, including the ones in this book, are typically written in real time, via a social media message I am sending to someone. I typically start writing as a short, encouraging note, and once I get to the of that note, I typically have an idea for a poem.

Sometimes someone has messaged me the story of what they are currently struggling with, and sometimes I do not know their story at all.  But in both scenarios, I often say a variation the following, “ I am not really one to give a lot of advice, but I do love stories. And I love to think about how stories end. And even though I do not know how your story ends, I just want to encourage you with these words to continue to take deep breaths and to have great hope, for even here there is still more to your story.”

I think everything I write is some variation of this. Because the truth is, the painful valleys of infertility or losing a child is something I have not lived or experienced, but I do know that it is just too heavy a burden. And even though I have not experienced that, I can still say, “I see you. I hear you. There is grace for this.”

Sometimes when I receive a message from a woman who is struggling with something I cannot even comprehend, I literally get up from my desk and go take a walk. I know in that moment I cannot feel her pain, but sometimes, you just need to hold that space for someone. 

It’s like holding a door for someone. You may not be walking through the door with them, but you can hold the door. I like to think of the poem as the door because this is something you can do for a stranger. Even if you do not know someone in real life, their struggles are still real and in that moment, you can still think of them and pray for them in a very real way. I just hope the poems I write can be a reflection of that, because those struggles are very painful and very real.

Rachel:  You wear many hats, including now being a book author!   What has the writing and publishing experience meant to you and to your readers?   

Oh wow, it has been an experience! I am a self-published author who just knew that I had to get this book out there. It took about two years to actually put it all together, and I still dream of someday being able to work with a traditional publisher if that were to ever happen, but if not, I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience. I was also overwhelmed with the positive feedback and was pleasantly surprised when the book became a #1 Amazon Bestseller in my category (Inspirational Poetry) the day it debuted!

I try to respond to every post and every message on social media where someone has mentioned the book. It never gets old to me that there are people around the world holding my book in their hands. My mind often travels back to the imagery of sitting in my childhood bedroom at my little desk, carving out words in composition books before bedtime. I never would have dreamed where the words I wrote would go.

Rachel:  What’s next for you?   Will you write another book?  More music?   How will you keep uplifting women? 

Yes to all of the above! I have been collaborating with my sister Jamie Grace to turn many of the poems in this book into songs. I have also been mapping out a trip around the U.S. to do a few writing workshops, poetry readings, and acoustic shows. I’m so excited about it! I spend a good amount of time each day responding to messages and emails I receive so I am looking forward to bringing this online community that is being built into real life. I love social media, but there’s nothing like being able to connect with others and share stories face to face. Even as an introvert (and Myers Brigg INTJ and Enneagram 5) I’m looking forward to it! I can’t wait to see what lies up head.

Follow Morgan on Instagram (it's the best!), and listen to my podcast with her sister Jamie-Grace here (where I talk about adoption, breast cancer, type 1 diabetes, and my This Is Us infatuation).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

When Adopting Feels Like a Sick, Practical Joke

I walked through the store, quickly and purposefully, certain that at any moment, I would be discovered as a fraud.  

I headed straight to the back of the store where the baby clothing was.   And I looked.  I told myself, I'm looking as a mom, not as a hopeful mom.  This is is.  This is MY turn.  This is MY day.   

I looked through every single rack of pink and white clothing.  I wanted to choose the exact right outfit:  the perfect one to say "welcome to the world" to my little girl.  

Then, there it was.  I held it up and examined the detail.  The zig-zag stitching, the tiny snaps, the delicate pink and warm white.   This was it.  

I made my way to the front of the store, my confidence and excitement quickly melting away.  Once again, I felt like someone who didn't deserve such hope and happiness.  After all, I wasn't really a mom...yet.  

I was certain the cashier would call me out.   Would reject my purchase.   But he didn't.  He just smiled, swiped my credit card, placed the outfit in a plastic bag, and said, "Please take our online survey. Have a nice day."  

I walked out of the store with it's artificial lights and into the natural sunlight in the parking lot.  I slid into my car (with no carseat in the back) and drove home.   

What had I done?  What was I thinking?  

Every time we had our adoption profile shown, it was either a "not you" or a "they're parenting."  We were almost matched, twice, once with a mom in Hawaii and once with a mom in Michigan.  But the communication with both moms faded.  Almost every time, as I shared in my newest book, we were shown for Caucasian boys.  This profile showing, the one we were waiting to hear back on, was for an African American baby girl in Tennessee.   

The day I learned about this possibility, I decided I was sick and tired of waiting.  Because though we'd only been officially been waiting a year, I had been waiting far longer to be a mommy.   

Two days later we got an e-mail from the social worker. 

Not chosen.  

So I returned the outfit.  Because it was for a specific HER, and that her wasn't to be OURS.  

It was a vicious cycle:  a dance of hope and rejection. Yet this was the first time I dared to dream enough, to hope enough, that I bought a specific baby a gift that I dreamed to give from "mom and dad."  As I returned the gift, I felt embarrassed, tired, and depressed.   

What was wrong with us?  Why weren't we parents yet?  Why did I see profile after profile on our agency's page stamped "placed" in bold print while ours still sat there, desperately?   

It was exhausting to be rejected over and over and over.  And at every turn, our nearest and dearest, be it family members, church members, friends, and co-workers would ask, "Heard anything yet?"  At first it was endearing.  They were excited for us.  But at a certain point, I just wanted to scream in frustration.  

With every "no" my heart broke a little more.  I felt jealousy (of other couples), bitterness, and shame creep in and create a home in my soul.   I didn't understand why I had so clearly knew we'd adopt, yet we hadn't adopted.   

I rationalized:  we were educated, financially stable, had great families, loved to travel, went to church every Sunday, and were happy.   So why not us?   Weren't we an expectant mom's dream couple?  

It's well over a decade later, and when I drive down the road in my minivan FULL of kids, remembering the fact that now I'm blessed beyond measure, I realize a few things:

1:  I wasn't really ready to adopt at the time I thought I was.  I still had lessons to learn, people to meet (as I outline extensively in my new book). 

2:  All of those babies who didn't become mine weren't meant to be mine.  They belonged to other mommies and daddies:  either their biological ones or the ones that adopted them.  

3:  After waiting twelve months, due to a few experiences we had, a shift happened.  I began asking God to bless the woman who was carrying our future baby, to bless her with peace and wisdom and strength, rather than crying to God that I needed a baby RIGHT THEN, RIGHT NOW, to fulfill MY needs.   The adoption journey became about the baby and expectant mother and not about me.

Because these lessons were learned, this wisdom bestowed, I was able to readily receive the surprise of a lifetime:  a "cold call" asking if we wanted our profile shown for an African American baby girl born that morning.  We said, of course, and two hours later, the call that said, "Come get your daughter."  

And two years later, another "cold call" for another girl, on THE DAY we started waiting to adopt a second time.  

And two years later, a two month match and then the birth of our son.  

And three-and-a-half years later, the four-and-half-month match and then the birth of our daughter.

Every wait.  Every "no."  Every tear.  It was ALL worth it.  Because every time of in between was a lesson in what we needed to be the best parents we could to the babies who would become ours.

So if you're in a place now where you're feeling broken, rejected, discouraged, uncertain, confused, may I tell you this?  That your miracle may be just one day away. And I know that you've perhaps told yourself this for many days, weeks, and years on end.  But the truth is, any moment could be your last day of not being a mom.  Your future can change in a split second:  that phone call or e-mail.  The one that says, "Congratulations."

Hold on, dear.  Just a little longer.  Have faith, and lean on the only ONE who knows what the future holds.  Pray for the expectant mothers who are making decisions for their babies.  Pray that your heart doesn't harden, so you are ready and able to learn the lessons God has for you and for your hands to be open to the little one that is coming your way.  

Take it from someone who has been there:  your "yes" is pending.  Are you ready?